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"I NEEDED HELP, NOT PUNISHMENT" - JOSH'S STORY


I started university in Fall of 2019. It was my first time living on my own. As excited as I was to have my first taste of independence, I have to admit that the transition was a lonely one. I was pretty serious about keeping up with my studies, so finding the time to develop a social life was a bit of a struggle. Most of my free time was spent following sports on my phone.


Of course, COVID hit not long after. My semi-isolation became total. I lived in a small one-bedroom apartment, and once the lockdown went into effect, I would go days at a time without seeing another person. I was bored out of my mind. The sheer tedium led me to, on a whim, place my first bet on a hockey game.


The website I used allowed me to place so many individual bets within a single game -- total shots on goal, final score, which player would get the most points, which player would score the first goal -- that it never really felt like I was losing money overall. I got the sustained buzz I was seeking regardless of the bottom line. Even if I had a particularly bad night, I could always rationalize it. "This is my entertainment budget; it’s not like I’m spending money on anything else.” Before long, I was betting on other sports too. I didn’t even like football, but it hardly mattered.


Obviously, a college student without a job will not be able to sustain a habit like this without making sacrifices. I started substituting cheap noodles for healthy meals. I sold my guitar and my PlayStation. Eventually, I emptied the savings account my grandparents had started for me when I was a kid. It wasn’t enough.


By the beginning of the Winter 2021 semester, I had an idea to get some more cash. My dad had given me a credit card for school expenses, including tuition and buying books. I figured I could take out the cash for the books and use the money to place bets. If I won, I would buy the books and save the profits for more betting. If I lost, I would just download bootleg digital copies of the required reading, which I could always end up doing anyway if I lost the bets I was going to place with the hypothetical profits and needed more cash. It made sense to me at the time because I needed it to make sense.


What happened next was the beginning of the end. I couldn’t find digital copies of the two most important textbooks for a required course as I had assumed I could. I struggled through the first couple of weeks of class before getting panicked and dropping it before the deadline. Instead of taking this as a warning sign, another idea occurred to me. The money for the dropped course would not be charged to the credit card. I could just take out the equivalent amount in cash and the monthly total would end up the same. My Dad would never notice. This was extremely sloppy wishful thinking, but the lure was too great.


I still remember the anxiety shooting through me when my Dad called later that week. I launched into a lame excuse (I had dropped the course but withdrew the cash to “set aside” so I could take it during the summer session). He didn’t buy it. Eventually, I broke down and admitted what I’d done. The saddest part: this was the first time he’d checked the details on the credit card statement since I’d moved out. He had trusted me completely.


I am extremely fortunate to have the kind of parents who realized I needed help, not punishment. After doing some research, they came across Chabad Lifeline. The harsh reality of my predicament weighed on me as I approached the Centre for the first time. However, by the time I left, I had a counsellor and a plan. There was a small crack in the self-loathing that had been building up inside me since well before I’d been caught.


Gambling is a very serious addiction, and there is no instant cure. I’ve been told my brain’s reward system still needs some serious debugging. I can still remember the innocent excitement of watching hockey when I was a little kid, before it all became entangled with this darkness. I’m just grateful there’s a way out.


*Names and details have been changed to protect the anonymity of those involved, as the story was adapted after being told to a Lifeline staff member with permission to share. Additionally, we would note that the reason we were able to attend to Josh immediately is because we are regularly expanding our staff in order to meet the growing demand for our services. As Chabad Lifeline is sustained through private donations, this entails significant fundraising efforts. Making a donation can help ensure that we can continue to provide timely care that can ultimately save a life or set a family on a better course, creating a positive ripple effect on future generations.

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